Employee to Consultant…What? How?

661279Last week, I asked my readers what they wanted to hear about in 2013.  If you have followed me for anytime, you know I would prefer to talk with you and not at you.  Please visit that post and drop a comment on a topic that you would like me to discuss in a future post.  This week, I am going to respond to Dale Richards’ comment/request to discuss how someone can make the move from full-time employee (FTE) to consultant.

The term ‘consultant’ is thrown around quite a bit and used incorrectly more often than not (like project manager), so let’s take a moment to qualify what a consultant is.

A consultant is someone that leverages a unique/specialized set of skills, knowledge, or resources to improve the situation/position of their client.  A consultant is not someone that comes in to execute a plan…that ‘consultant’ is really just staff augmentation.

What I would like to do now is share some of my early missteps in developing Kelly Project Solutions.

  • Banking on Social Media – A few of my mentors asked about my networking activity and I was so proud, at the time, to say that my blog was growing readers (named runner-up best by ComputerWeekly) and I was named a Top 10 Project Manager on Twitter…standing tall! Each of them said some flavor of the following “Congratulations on putting yourself out there and validating your ideas, but as far as business development goes it is a waste. Who follows #pmot? Who follows your blog and has a ComputerWeekly subscription?  Not decision makers with P&L responsibility.  Other project managers that populate those avenues are not buying your services.”  Not standing so tall now.
  • Underestimating Time to Launch – While I was not in a rush, I really thought that the various contracts I had worked through the years put me in contact with some great contacts in the Raleigh-area.  Surely there would be some ‘pull’ into the market. Ummm…no. Getting folks to listen and open their doors, timing on the budgets and winter planning, cancelled/pushed projects, etc all rear their ugly heads when you are trying to launch your practice.  Again, my mentors helped right my head…18 months to truly start.  It takes time to develop relationships and get bites on conversations, pricing discussions, and landing contracts.
  • Drinking the Personal Branding Cool-Aid – There has been such a push on personal branding (if you don’t sell yourself, your competition certainly won’t) that I was able to work the subtle elevator pitch into almost any scenario.  While a crisp message is required, keep it in the back pocket.  Ask questions. Listen. Ask more questions. When prospective clients feel you want to learn about their company and their business, then they will begin to open up and trust.  Hence the 18-month lead time.  It is a few lunches, handwritten letters, etc over months to develop the relationship.
So what should you be doing to make jump?
  • Identify yourself.  Do you want to be a contract project manager that works at different firms but isn’t interested in growing a business?  There is nothing wrong with that…at all.  Partner with a few great recruiters and develop those relationships (working with recruiters in a future post).  If you do want to be a consultant, then you need to clearly identify what unique skill/knowledge/resource can you offer your clients. Why do they need you vs. hiring someone on their own or going to a recruiter to grab any resource in the market?
  • Dust off the various profiles. Social media isn’t everything, but it is a part of the equation. Especially LinkedIn.  Professional picture, awards, publications, speaking events…make sure it is all up to date.  We will come back to this in a moment.
  • Become an expert. Blogging can help you put yourself out there and validate some of your ideas, but you need to take it a step further.  You must begin securing a few speaking engagements (Webinars work also) and write a book.  Speakers and authors instantly gain a level of credibility that a solid contractor does not garner…right, wrong or indifferent.
  • Networking – LinkedIn can help you get this going. Connect with anyone and everyone you can…make Keith Ferrazzi proud! If you have not done this, then you will simply start by re-igniting the relationship – “Hey, how are you?  It has been such a long time! I will do a better job of staying in touch.  What have you been working on?….”  Connect with folks not in your connections and contact every one of them.  Remind yourself to do this quarterly.  I have my list of folks in MS Excel and try to keep a note for the last 2 exchanges in a comments column, so I can reference something from our last conversation.  Outside of LinkedIn, leverage a tool like MeetUp to find other networking events…think entreprenuer, business groups, etc.  Don’t throw away the tech/project mgmt community, but focus on who and where potential clients will be. There are only so many hours in the week and if you are writing a book, only so many hours after work. Network like crazy and focus.  Remember to have your crisp answer on what you do, have a pocket full of business cards, but ask a lot of questions about them.  Within the next day or so, you want to send a handwritten note and thank them for taking the time to talk at the event.  Mention something about your conversation…about them.  Within the next few days, connect on LinkedIn and add them to the rotation mentioned earlier.  One key to successful correspondances…find articles that speak to their industry, favorite sports team, or families upcoming vacation spot.  “Hey, check out this link on company X.  I thought you would enjoy it.”  Networking is only cheesy when you are pulling from your contacts.  You want them to look forward to your email/note/voicemail.
  • Develop Relationships – You know who you are and what you offer.  You are developing a strong pipeline of prospects (networking). Now, you have to pay the bills.  As you correspond with and listen to your contacts, some will stand out more than others as potential leads.  Those that appear to have needs aligning with your unique offering, you will want to step it up with a handwritten letter and request for some face time over coffee, lunch, dinner.  While most people enjoy a free meal, most decision makers are very busy.  If you secure face time with them, then you must work in your request to assist them with your services.  Reiterate some of the points you have spoken about before and tell them that you have listened to their challenges and believe you can help and ask for time to come to his/her office and meet with their team to share some ideas and share the value you can bring to the table.
  • Execute and restart the cycle(Don’t forget to ask your clients for introductions, references, and new business)


When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for you to stand upon, or, you will be taught how to fly

~Patrick Overton

If you have successfully developed your own consulting practice, we would love to hear what else I may have missed.  If you are just starting out, let me know if you still have questions or specific issues you are facing.  Let’s Talk!


6 thoughts on “Employee to Consultant…What? How?

  1. This is great. Thanks, Robert. Did you just cut the chord initially to your old job and start promoting your services, or did you dovetail your old job with your new practice?

    1. Dale,

      I had a great job at Lenovo and was learning a lot, but decided to step out and take a few contracts with other firms. I saw it as an opportunity to meet new folks, learn more environments, etc. It was a slow move and at times (depending on business) I still go back to a contract that is challenging but via a local recruiting agency on their paper. Develop your brand, build your relationships, get your LLC in-place and start talking with your contacts about stepping out. I also started the company website and attending events as “Robert the Managing Partner of KPS…” in my move. I do know some folks that talked with a contact and shared their interest to jump out on there own, got a break, and never looked back! Awesome, but not the common path :)

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